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2023-24 Big East men’s basketball preview: The middle of the pack

The middling teams in the conference should still be strong this upcoming year.

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Big East Basketball Media Day Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

Basketball is back on Monday and the Big East has plenty of storylines at which to get caught up before UConn tips off its season against Northern Arizona. While the middle of the Big East doesn’t have NCAA title aspirations, each of these three teams should challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid and create some drama at the conference tournament in March.

St. John’s Red Storm

Fast Facts

Head Coach: Rick Pitino (first season)

2022-23 Record: 18-15 (7-13 Big East)

Final 2022-23 Ranking: No. 82

2023-24 KenPom Ranking: No. 60

2022-23 in review

While St. John’s didn’t necessarily have high expectations for last season - picked sixth in the preseason poll - it failed to meet them by finishing eighth in the league. The Andre Curbelo-Posh Alexander experiment didn’t pan out, as the latter seemed to get worse playing alongside the polarizing point guard. Joel Soriano was a monster on the block, but the Red Storm couldn’t muster enough consistent offensive output to be competitive, ranking No. 111 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Mike Anderson didn’t win enough games over his four years in Queens and was fired to bring in Rick Pitino, though the former head man is not leaving quietly.

2023-24 preview

One of the biggest stories in college basketball this upcoming season, Pitino makes his long-awaited return to the Big East, taking over a St. John’s program mired in mediocrity for a long time. While he had a rough departure from Louisville in 2017 amid multiple scandals, Pitino is a proven winner everywhere he’s been in his 30-plus years of coaching.

The two-time national champion has done a complete overhaul of the roster, though he brings back the most important centerpiece in Joel Soriano, the only member of the conference to average a double-double. Other than that, it’s all new faces in Queens, including nine transfers and top-50 freshman guard Simeon Wilcher. Former UConn guard Nahiem Alleyne is also on the roster.

With so many unknowns, it’s somewhat of a crapshoot predicting how this team will end up. There’s no doubt Pitino has assembled a talented group of guys, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to mesh well and succeed in the Big East.

Xavier Musketeers

Fast Facts

Head Coach: Sean Miller (second year)

2022-23 Record: 27-10 (15-5 Big East)

Final 2022-23 Ranking: No. 15

2023-24 KenPom Ranking: No. 34

2022-23 in review

Sean Miller had about as good of a first year taking over a program as one can have, leading the Musketeers to second place Big East finish and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. He was able to find likely the most undervalued transfer in the entire portal in Souley Boum, who went from Conference-USA stand-out to an upper-echelon guard in the Big East. Miller also had Hurley’s number last season, sweeping the series and starting the infamous sag defense on Andre Jackson. Offensively, they were a juggernaut, ranking in the top 10 of both KenPom and EvanMiya’s performance ratings, weren’t able to overcome Texas’ attack in the Sweet Sixteen.

2023-24 preview

This coming year will be a lot more challenging for Miller. His stud duo of Boum and Colby Jones (15 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.4 APG) both left for the NBA. Veteran guard Adam Kunkel (10.9 PPG) is also gone, leaving some massive holes in the backcourt. Zach Freemantle is back on the roster, but he missed the last 15 games of last season with an ankle injury, and it is feared he could miss the entire upcoming season and the school has not given a timetable for his return. The same can be said of forward Jerome Hunter, who is also out indefinitely with an undisclosed medical issue. Xavier lacks frontcourt depth without the pair.

With the backcourt aces gone and the stud front line injured, Xavier may actually drop to the back half of the conference this season. There’s no doubt that Miller is a great coach, and he has some talent to work with, but if Freemantle and Hunter are unable to go, the Musketeers may have some trouble this season.

Providence Friars

Fast Facts

Head Coach: Kim English (first season)

2022-23 Record: 21-12 (13-7 Big East)

Final 2022-23 Ranking: No. 40

2023-24 KenPom Ranking: No. 54

2022-23 in review

Ed Cooley’s last season in Providence wasn’t as successful as the surprise Sweet Sixteen run in 2022, though the Friars still finished in the Big East’s top five. The season was characterized by some huge wins - UConn, Marquette, and Creighton - that led them to another NCAA tournament berth, which was their seventh in the last 10 years. As was the case with many of the top teams in the Big East, Providence was great offensively, but struggled on the defensive end. The Friars had a well-balanced starting five and each averaged more than 10.0 points per game, but depth was a concern. The team struggled to overcome foul trouble, which is eventually what doomed the Friars in their final game against Kentucky.

2023-24 preview

Cooley made the rare move to accept another job in-conference and is now at Georgetown. Former George Mason head coach Kim English is relatively green, as this is his third season in charge of a program but is liked by many and seen as a natural fit.

English was able to convince the core to remain at Providence, something that rarely happens when a coaching change occurs. That’s already a great sign for the Friars. The returnees are highlighted by Big East Player of the Year candidate Bryce Hopkins (15.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG) and uber-athlete Devin Carter (13 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG), who gives the Friars a veteran lead guard who is also a top-tier defender.

The headliner of the Class of 2023, 6-foot-5 four-star shooting guard Garwey Dual, recommitted to the Friars after speaking to English. Josh Oduro and Ticket Gaines both followed their coach and should be immediate contributors, if not starters. The blueprint is there. English has a great combination of elite returners and complimentary pieces to make some noise in Year 1.